Episode 163 - When Should We Discriminate?

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This week we're going to talk about discrimination, what is it, when should you do it, should you do it? How does this fit into how Christians think about and approach cultural issues of morality and ethics and those sort of things in the public square today.

For instance, just yesterday as I recorded this, the Supreme Court released their ruling on the Masterpiece Cake Shop case, which was basically about a cake baker, who was a Christian, who did not want to make same sex wedding cakes. This was said to have been, by the state of Colorado and other courts, unjust discrimination. That he was discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

The whole case in some ways revolved around the question of if he was refusing to serve gay people or was he refusing to make a certain type of cake. Also, by extension, why was he allowed to, if he was, not make the certain type of cake? Was it a first amendment freedom of expression sort of thing? Freedom of speech? Did it deal with freedom and free exercise of religion? There are all these sorts of questions and it's a very interesting case to look at, but the Supreme Court ruled on the side of Jack and Masterpiece Cake Shop. Basically, the Colorado State government had inappropriately trampled on his religious rights.

Now all of this brings into question what discrimination is, because it's common today to hear Christians say Jack did not discriminate.

Well, the fact of the matter is depending on what definition of discrimination you use, he actually did discriminate and maybe I'm an idealist here and I'm on a quest to that that does not end well, but I think we should be clear that there are unjust and there are just forms of discrimination. I'm not prepared to say that Jack didn't discriminate.

I'm not prepared to say that the photographers who don't want to participate in a same sex ceremony didn't discriminate. They did discriminate. They discriminated at the very least in the same way the government discriminates when it says you have to be 16 years old to get a driver's license. That's a discrimination. That is making a distinction between two things.

It's the recognition and understanding that there's a difference between being 15 and driving and being 16 and driving, or at the very least maybe we would say being 10 and driving and being 20 and driving, right? Where you draw that line, there may be some fuzziness there, but nonetheless, we would say 10 year olds shouldn't drive, 20 year olds should be able to drive. Maybe, depends on who you ask again, right? But in the middle there, maybe 16 is where we draw the line.

Now why are we drawing the line there with regards to driving? Well, simply put, we think age, by and large, makes a difference when it comes to how well you drive.

It seems to correlate at least, doesn't it? Two year olds can't reach the pedals, 12 year olds probably don't have the judgment or experience and yet older people have those qualities by and large. The law discriminates based on age when it comes to who can drive a car, and that's not unjust discrimination because by and large age is a relevant factor when it comes to if you can drive a car competently and safely.That's a just form of discrimination.

The same happens for sports teams. You would not want a 25 year old playing in a T-ball league, but if you say he can't participate, you are discriminating based on age. You are recognizing and understanding a difference between one thing and another and then making a valued judgment as to if that person or thing can participate.

The question becomes “is the reason for discrimination relevant to the decision you're making?” For instance, if I were to say you can't play on my T-ball team because you have brown hair, well what does the color of your hair have to do with your ability to play T-ball? Nothing. Okay, what does your age have to do with your ability to play T-ball? A lot. If you're 1, you're not going to be able to play the game. If you're 25, you're going to be able to play the game far too well and someone's going to get hurt. Age is actually a relevant factor there.

Now, let's transport this line of thinking into how we think about other issues. For instance, back to the cake shop and religious issues and freedom of expression issues. Now, is the reason Jack is giving for not making cakes unjust discrimination? Remember, there is just discrimination and unjust discrimination. There is a moral way to discriminate and an immoral way to discriminate.

Well, the first point I think we have to make here is we don't agree as a society on why Jack didn't make the cake, which is kind of interesting because Jack is the only one who can tell us why Jack didn't make the cake. There are some people who have said well, Jack was intentionally not serving LGBT people, but this is actually demonstrably false. He and other cake bakers, who have refused to make cakes for same sex ceremonies have served gay and lesbian and bisexual customers while knowing they were gay, lesbian, and bisexual. They have served them so you can't say that the discrimination was based on their sexual orientation. It was actually based on, from Jack's own mouth, the type of event that the cake was for, the type of cake that it was for, and that's the difference here.

What was the reason for not making the cake? Was it because of the sexual orientation of the people getting it? No, and in fact, I think you could demonstrate this another way because almost all of the people that aren't wanting to participate in same sex ceremonies would still object to making the cake and participating in the ceremony if the two people were heterosexuals. Now yes, that's not the most common form of same sex union but you don't have to be same sex in your orientation in order to marry someone of the same sex.

There have been some cases where people who are heterosexual have gotten married for other reasons, but my point there is the objection in that case wouldn't be to the sexual orientation of the person, and that further reinforces the point that the discrimination is actually just. It's not discriminating based on what the government considers to be a protected class. It's not discriminating based on age, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation - it's the type of event.

What's interesting is Jack, in this case, actually doesn't make cakes for adult themed parties either. That's a type of cake, a type of event. It has nothing to do with the type of person and that is the key issue here.

Now some people have said that discrimination about same sex ceremonies is just like saying that race is the discriminating reason. There was a time in this country when the majority of people thought black people and white people should not marry, that interracial marriage was wrong. I would say that if you prevented a black person and a white person from getting married, that that was unjust discrimination. Well, what's the difference? Why am I saying that a cake baker should be able to not make a cake for a same sex wedding but it would be unjust discrimination if they did it for an interracial marriage?

(Now, just as an aside here, I don't actually think people should be made to participate in free enterprise endeavors that they don't want to, but that's a different conversation). Let's just talk about opposing a same sex ceremony and an interracial ceremony. What's the difference there?

Well, you have to ask yourself, what does sex have to do with marriage? What does race have to do with marriage? Well, race has nothing to do with marriage, right? Marriage, by and large, naturally and historically and religiously and theologically has been based on the understanding that when two complementary biologically human creatures come together and commit to each other, there is something certainly more than natural sex that happens, but not less than that.

Even in the natural world, we see that man and woman are made for each other, just biologically. Scripture affirms that man and woman are made for each other, but scripture also points to the fact that the natural world affirms this too. Sex has a lot to do with marriage, but race does not. Race doesn't contribute something that is substantively important to the differentiation of one marriage versus another, but sex does, and that's really important here.

If someone were to discriminate based on a marriage with a white and a black person coming together versus a white and a white or a black and a black, that would be unjust discrimination. It's based on something that's inconsequential to the action at hand. Race doesn't matter when it comes to marriage, but if someone were to make a discrimination based on the sex of the two people getting married or trying to get married, well that actually would start to have maybe a reasonable consideration because sex does matter for marriage.

Historically, it has been understood that way. Theologically it has been. Naturally, if you just take a step back at look at it biologically, it matters. There's a difference there. We can't just say that discrimination based on sex or gender identity today is analogous to racial discrimination. It's not and that's incredibly important to understand, but what underlies all of this? It has to do with the reason one is discriminating.

Is it based on an objective moral standard? In other words: what God has revealed or what we may ascertain from natural laws, which I would say are actually also revealed in scripture. But is it based on that or is it based on something that's inconsequential or subjective for the thing in view?

The other way to ask this question is: are we treating same things the same way with respect to the issue at hand? Are we treating same things the same way with respect to the issue at hand? With respect to the issue at hand, for instance black and white people, there's nothing different there when it comes to what their marriage would be like. If it's a man and a man, when it comes to a marriage, there is something different there than when it comes to a man and a woman. Just very naturally, I think we can see that.

Now the question becomes: what's the purpose of marriage and does that difference in sex actually matter? I think very clearly it does, and we've talked about that previously. We treat same things the same way with regard to the issue at hand. That is the principle we can use as a pointer to determine if discrimination has been just or unjust.

What's interesting is if you look up discrimination in the dictionary you get two definitions. The first definition is actually the following one and I do not think this has been the case for all of time but here's what it is: "The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex." I think we can affirm this definition but there's a lot loaded into it, right?

I would agree that there is an improper form of discrimination, that this definition would encapsulate, but we may disagree on what unjust is or what prejudicial means here, right? In other words, what does it mean to discriminate justly versus unjustly, and I would refer us back to our previous principle, to treat same things the same way with regards to the issue at hand.

Now there's a second definition here and it's more general and it's “the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.” This is what's behind discriminating based on age when it comes to a driver's license. You'll notice the second definition said the unjust treatment of a category based on age, but the government discriminates based on age with regards to all sorts of things, but it's not unjust because it matters for the issue at hand.

Now discrimination just in general, recognizing a difference between two things. That's what we do when we say someone is a discriminating eater or a discriminating drinker. You know, there are some people who you could put five different wines in front of them and not tell them what wines they are and they'd be able to tell you just by drinking it or smelling it. “Oh, it's got a strong start and an oaky finish.” (I have no idea, I don't particularly care for wine.) But my point is that there are people who are able to discriminate, to make refined distinctions, to understand what matters and differentiates one thing from another thing, and that isn't necessarily unjust.

Schools do this all of the time when they admit people. They are discriminating. They are making a choice between one person based on a set of criteria and another person based on a set of criteria, and they're treating hopefully same things the same way. Now I actually do think a lot of admissions policies today are unjust in that they're trying to create equal outcomes instead of equal opportunities, but that's another conversation for another day. But nonetheless, anytime, and this is key, anytime we make a choice between one thing and another, we are discriminating.

When God says, "Only the people who are found in Christ will be saved," he is discriminating. When God says, "Only righteous people will enter Heaven," he is discriminating. Isn't that interesting? But it's not an inappropriate discrimination because Heaven is the type of place where only righteous people can be, and so it makes sense that that would be the qualifier to go to Heaven.

Now thankfully, Jesus provides righteousness for all those who place their faith in Him for salvation, but nonetheless, there is a discrimination there but it's not unjust. If you've gotten anything today, hopefully it's these two categories. There is just discrimination and unjust discrimination. We should treat things that are the same the same way with regard to the issue at hand or it becomes unjust discrimination.

The second principle is that we should be discriminating based on a moral standard, but, and here's a key point, when it comes to people, and let's say based on their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their race or their age, we shouldn't be treating them a certain way because of those characteristics, but here's the incredibly important part, we may end up treating those people differently with regards to certain actions they want to take in view of those characteristics.

The same sex marriage example is a good one there. The cake baker is not treating the person differently because they are same sex in their orientation. They are making a distinction based on the action that person wants to take, so it's not in virtue of the person as they are, it's in view of the action they want the baker to participate in that they are then making a refined distinction.

Why is this important? Because I think at a base level when we say we're not discriminating, it rings hollow because it's actually false. Everyone is discriminating. What we need to be able to get to in the conversation is the reason for the discrimination. Is it a valid reason with regards to the issue and action at hand or is it invalid? Is it just or is it unjust? Just being able to have the category in modern conversation of just discrimination would go a long way for furthering our kind of personal and cultural discourse with each other.

I hope this has been helpful and I'll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.